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African music wows stadium crowd

By Terry Joseph
August 02, 2005

One of the most colourful large-scale events took place Sunday at the Hasely Crawford Stadium, as some 10,000 Emancipation celebrants donned a variety of African-oriented designs, to attend the Cultural Expressions concert in honour of visiting President of Nigeria, His Excellency Chief Olusegun Obasanjo.

Subtitled "A Journey Back to Roots," the free concert was presented by the National Carnival Commission (NCC), whose chairman, Kenny de Silva, acted as executive producer on behalf of the Office of the Prime Minister. The event headlined the West African Highlife Band whose music, although new to most of the 10,000 gathered at the stadium, moved them to give up seats in favou of partying the night away on the athletic track below.

The four-hour concert started at 7 pm but two acts that performed early in the programme were called back to the stage after the 8.15 arrival of President Obasanjo, in order to deliver a well-rounded package of indigenous arts, Boogsie Sharpe's Petrotrin Phase II Pan Groove and North West LaventilleFolk Performers doing yeoman service in helping the flow, when the programme had to be changed to match the schedule of its honoured guests.

Given the demands of his thoroughly hectic day and an equally rigorous schedule yesterday, President Obasanjo could not stay to the end of the concert, leaving circa 10.15 pm to return to his hotel, having taken in the work of Phase II Pan Groove, the Pembroke Limbo Dancers, the Mighty Duke, Ella Andall, Black Stalin and a parade of traditional Carnival characters, who earlier greeted him at the entrance to the stand.

Set against an engaging backdrop designed by Makemba Kunle and constructed by the Studio 66 Arts Community, MC Sharon Pitt welcomed guests and introduced Phase II Pan Groove, whose first set offered "Forward Home", "End of the Road" and "Thanks for the Music", followed by calypsonian Composer, whose song on the use of the word "Black" as a negative English connotation was quite timely and Brother Valentino's rendition of "Stay Up, Zimbabwe."

Indian classical singer, Haniff Mohammed had only just completed one of his trademark pieces, "Rajin", eliciting tremendous applause, when a buzz developed over the imminent arrival of Prime Minister Patrick Manning and his party who, in any event, would remain in the stadium lobby to receive President Obasanjo's group.

The concert had been in progress for some 75 minutes when the distinguished visitor arrived. Led by Manning, President Obasanjo and party were ushered to their seats via a private route decorated by Kemal Manickchand, which cleverly reflected a sense of collaboration between the national colours of Trinidad and Tobago and Nigeria. North West Laventille had raised the curtain with a flawlessly executed Saraka (welcome dance), followed by performances from Composer, Brother Valentino's "Stay Up, Zimbabwe" and Mohammed's rendition.

NW Laventille drummers and dancers and Phase II Pan Groove had been filling in the waiting period before Len "Boogsie" Sharpe and 16 year-old Yohan Chuckaree played the Nigeria and Trinidad and Tobago national anthems in that order, bringing back to the stage the Saraka and some more steelband music (including "PataPata" and "Billie Jean") before the parade of Carnival characters and the Pembroke limbo were under the spotlight.

 The Mighty Duke, resplendent in African garb, was up next to sing "Black is Beautiful" and "How Many More Must Die", followed by Ella Andall, whose set included signature selections "Hello Africa" and "Black Woman". Black Stalin opened with "Black Man Don't Get Nothing Easy", followed with "Bu'n Dem" and closed on the seminal "Feeling to Party", conscripting the entire house as backup singers for both verse and chorus.

Phase II Pan Groove returned while Baba Ken Okulolo's West African Highlife Band quickly set up to deliver the show's closing set. For the most part, the crowd not having previously heard the music of the West African Highlife Band, the mood in the house was initially one of expressed curiosity but quickly changed to participation when the quintet broke into its first piece, "BereBote".

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